Writing a Dilemma

A dilemma presents an individual with a difficult choice among what appear to be competing "goods." By
considering dilemmas, students can gain greater understanding of historical content, current social and
political situations, and their own values. They also learn how to take a stand, make reasoned arguments for
a given position, and understand the reasoning and logic of others. Dilemmas should help complicate
student thinking, not polarize it or develop intolerance for the views of others.
These steps can be useful in writing a dilemma from current events or historical situations.
What is the general topic the dilemma will address (e.g. cheating, advocating strategic
disarmament, or buying on the black market)
Identify a central character and determine the specific choice he/she will face in this dilemma.
(e.g. Should Armand cheat on a test to make athletic eligibility? Should Senator Williams, who has
traditionally been "pro-military” and is facing a difficult re-election campaign support the START Treaty?
Should Alice buy a specific item she needs on the black market rather than through official channels?)
Determine the initial background that is needed to provide a context for the dilemma that the
central character faces. (e.g. information about academic standards and eligibility for student athletes, the
basic background of the START talks and treaty, the development of the black market in contrast to the
official markets in a state or community)
Flesh out the central character and decide additional personal characteristics that will help the
reader better understand who he/she is and what motivates him/her.
List important facts/arguments/opinions on BOTH sides of the choice:
On the reverse side, outline the narrative that will become this dilemma! Start with setting a
"scene" with your central character and giving a context to the choice he/she will face. Then, present the
dilemma and give two to three equally compelling arguments for each side of the choice. Think of “on the
one hand...but on the other hand..." End with a forced choice, yes/no question. Should the character do this
or that? Be sure you have the four components of a clear dilemma: setting the overall context for the
dilemma, introducing the actual dilemma choice, providing equally compelling yes/no arguments, and
asking for a clear choice to be made at the end.
Developed by John Zola